Defra – what are you for? (4)

This government has been hopeless at doing things for nature. Almost completely hopeless.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act received Royal Assent in November 2009. Then there was a general election in May 2010 and everything ground to a halt.

Defra has dropped several proposed Marine Conservation Zones from the current consultation because of ‘economic cost’. It seems as though marine industries are wagging the Defra dog. And Defra does appear to be a bit of a cur, these days.

The Wildlife Trusts have always been active on this subject and I wish they would actually get a bit tougher on the government failure. The Marine Conservation Society has a useful ‘I want these sites designated and you shouldn’t have dropped the others’ email that you can sign too.  One thing I liked about this was that you could choose your own title for your email. I chose: Defra- you have done very little for nature in the last five years and you haven’t done enough in this area.

Marine Protected Areas work for fishermen as well as fish, cetaceans, seabirds and squidgy little marine things.  Why let the fishing industry – an industry that doesn’t operate on the basis of science or long term sustainability – veto marine protected areas that will benefit wildlife and benefit fishermen (in the long run) too?

The whole point of the environment department is to fight for the environment – not to cave in and compromise nature’s needs.  But Defra seems to have been captured by industry under this administration: farmers, shooters, fishermen and developers.





12 Replies to “Defra – what are you for? (4)”

  1. But it isn’t an Environment Department any more, it is MAFF reincarnated – read Liz Truss’ speech on being made SoS – after getting the untidy environment bits out of the way, it is a peon of praise for British food and farming. We need our Environment Department back ! But be under no illusion that the Conservative ambition to reduce Government to 1930s levels is a freestanding dogmatic ambition for which the deficit provides an increasingly skimpy fig leaf and what it means is that anything they can get rid of will go – and the writing is very clearly on the wall for nature conservation which the Conservatives have made clear is nothing other than a hindrance to economic development. And, of course, there’ll be no worries about EU Wildlife Directives after they’ve got us right out of the EU.

  2. So where are they (we) all with the Vote of No Confidence in Defra then?

    Wildlife Trusts sadly I fear are too worried about project funding to bite the hand scattering the crumbs, ditto RSPB to a lesser extent perhaps.

    Lawton Report gathering dust? State of Nature …. ConDem’d to getting worse still?

  3. Mark I don’t follow the logic of opposing government funded research into agriculture which is basically what your saying. Governments role in food and the environment cannot be purely focused on environmental issues at the expense of independent research into measures which ultimately improve sustainable production not only for the profitability of farming but also for the benefit of society as a whole. The demise of ADAS as an independent body in the 1990’s has had a catastrophic effect on UK agriculture in that the privatised sector has obviously focused on those areas with the greatest profit centres; the basic research done by ADAS and their work done at Levington on soil science for instance is an example of this in that no real science has been done in the UK on soils since that point. This starkly contrasts with for instance the work being done by the USDA on soils.

    You cannot simply divide the environment away from agriculture in some sort of urban mythology; the two are ultimately inter connected.

    Your real concern about Defra should be that yet further sell offs of R&D has just been announced to Capita yesterday. Ultimately I have a certain sympathy with the Governments position on this as society as a whole simply has no interest or understanding of the importance of agricultural research so why should they be concerned in a time of such austerity in public finances; indeed as your comments illustrated.

    “Outsourcing giant Capita and Newcastle University have struck a 10-year deal to partly privatise the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).”

    1. I am somewhat puzzled by this comment Julian. The original post is all about Marine Conservation Zones and makes no comment one way or another about agricultural research. Of course farming (and fishing) are inextricably linked with the environment but the problem is that, although Defra is officially responsibly for both food production and environmental protection, it consistently favours the former over the latter whenever they are in conflict.
      I am sure you are right that more not less agricultural research is needed (especially if it includes research into more sustainable production methods) but this has no bearing on the fact that nature needs a stronger voice representing it in government.

  4. A colleague of mine who has spent some time in Holland and has family there, says that one of the main differences he sees between this country and The Netherlands is that in The Netherlands environmental based decisions (and others) are taken much more on the basis of the relevant science and much less so on the basis of politics. This is certainly one of the problems in this country, exemplified by Defra over the term of this Government, that there is much too much politics in their decision making and much too little science. This, to a good degree is the reason we look back a Defra’s performance in supporting nature and the environment over the recent five years as being very mediocre indeed.

  5. “The whole point of the environment department is to fight for the environment – not to cave in and compromise nature’s needs.” – Unfortunately this administration believes that the whole point of government (every bit of it, including environment) is to facilitate the making of money. That is their entire credo.

  6. In UK waters, we have a partial network of partially protected marine areas (PPMAs): Defra has launched a consultation on just 23 of a possible 37 second tranche MCZs because of socio-economic costs of designating more; Northern Ireland has barely started to designate MPAs; Wales has scrapped plans for highly protected MCZs in pursuit of ‘blue growth’ and seems reluctant to implement Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive (which Defra is doing after threat of legal challenge by the Marine Conservation Society and other NGOs); and Scotland may designate new MPAs for mobile species, including cetaceans, which Defra doesn’t agree with – so that’s an ecologically coherent and well-managed MPA network, which UK Government is committed to deliver by 2016?

    Proposals to designate vast highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are welcome, but just 0.000001% of UK waters (e.g. at Lundy and Flamborough Head) are designated as HPMAs.

    Back in July 2012, the Minister announced a review of the approach to HPMAs in English waters, now being undertaken by Cefas. We await the Cefas report, which seems likely to conclude that greater benefits can be delivered by HPMAs, but socio-economic costs may make them politically unacceptable? So it’s a matter of societal choice. If more HPMAs are established in the UKOTs we should demand similar ambition at home.

  7. Dear Jonathon, Your right of course but I was referring to Mark’s final paragraph where he still thinks the ghost of Rab Butler stalks the corridors of Whitehall wielding powers of Machiavellian intent on farming’s behalf; a view I’m getting increasingly tiered of hearing.

    Dear Allan, If you want to see a policy based on political concerns rather than science you need look no further than the EU Commission who have recently sacked their chief scientific advisor for doing nothing more than expressing her scientific opinion. There is no scientific based policy within the EU as been proved by the recent Neonics debate and the actions of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. This group of commission funded scientists discredited a very valid argument for restricting Neonics by their actions thus leading to a total ban which then led to the wide scale use of replacement pyrethroid insecticide. The same is true on GMO’s where the policy is based on political expedience rather than solid science. Personally I think the ban on certain pesticides is a wakeup call to the industry and will lead to a more sustainable food production system however this cannot be achieved by politically lead non scientific policy decisions made in the absence of any meaningful and recognised public research. (In my humble opinion !)

  8. Do hope you enjoyed my reply. It languished under the Times obits for some time…trying to tell me (98th – how time flies), MCZ or lonely depopulated islands something?

    ps amused by Monbiot signing, as Feral is all about rewilding the oceans with little time for contrived reserve management plans. Hey ho. Little interest from anyone since a similar letter from conservation NGOs two years ago. Birds rule!

    Letters to the Editor

    February 10 2105

    Marine zones

    Sir, Our failure to protect a handful of Marine Conservation Zones in the UK — mainly due to a powerful fishing industry lobby — must not mean that those who may be less influential but more dependent on fishing around UK overseas territories are bamboozled into hanging up their lines and nets by a Bafta-worthy list of celebrities, environmentalists and activists here in the UK (letter, Feb 9).
    Rob Yorke
    Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

    1. Rob – you are talking absolute nonsense. Have you spoken to Pitcairn Islanders? They all want a marine protected area around their island. all of them! Just let me know what the population of South Georgia is? And how big its fishing fleet?

      1. Really Mark? Have any of us? This letter in Times today hints at some local sentiment. Plus other comments unfortunately behind the paywall.
        There are often unforeseen consequences.

        February 12 2015
        The call for a ban on fishing around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands overlooks two major points
        Sir, The call for a ban on fishing around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (letter and report, Feb 9) overlooks two major points. First, it is a truly sustainable fishery, underpinned by rigorous science. As more and more valuable ecosystems are destroyed in man’s quest for protein, this is something which should be applauded.
        Second, an area that allows no fishing is, paradoxically, likely to become rapidly denuded of fish. It has to be properly monitored and policed, which costs considerably more than the £400,000 your source suggests (South Georgia’s patrol vessel alone costs £3 million). Licence income, and the support of licensed vessels keen to protect their investment, enables us to manage the world’s largest marine protected area at no cost to the British taxpayer.
        More importantly, the income enables us to work on the conservation of those endangered species, such as albatrosses and penguins, which your article highlights. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is a wonderful, but fragile, environment. Our focus needs to be on the major threats, such as invasive species and climate change, rather than on making ill-considered gestures that could ultimately do far more harm than good.
        Nigel Haywood
        (Commissioner, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, 2010-14)
        Corfe Castle, Dorset

Comments are closed.